Sharma pleased to shoulder India’s Masters hopes

Shubhankar Sharma of India plays a chip shot to a green during a practice round prior to the start of the 2018 Masters Tournament
AFP

Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Shubhankar Sharma can see the history around every corner of Augusta National, but the Indian sensation is far from daunted heading into his maiden Masters.

The 21-year-old’s meteoric rankings rise earned him a rare special invitation to the first major championship of the season, and he’s delighted to shoulder the expectations of a nation that has produced only three prior Masters starters.

“Obviously the pressure is a lot more and it’s a very high stage, but personally I don’t feel any burden,” he said.

“I’m actually very happy that I’m getting a lot of attention. A lot of people back home are following me, and if I can get a good finish this weekend, maybe even win a green jacket, it will be great for the game.

“At the end of the day it’s just a game and you are just trying to have fun,” he added. “If my game is good enough to win here — which I feel it is — if I play my best, I will surely be in contention.”

Sharma follows compatriots Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Anirban Lahiri in teeing it up at Augusta.

The goose bumps rose when he turned into Magnolia Lane, the short, stately drive leading to the clubhouse.

“It’s the best road that I’ve driven on,” Sharma said.

He arrived there thanks to a halcyon three months that saw him shoot from 462nd in the world rankings to as high as 64th thanks to European Tour wins at the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship along with a tie for ninth place at the elite WGC-Mexico Championship in March — where he led by two strokes going into the final round.

The call from Augusta National came after he arrived home from Mexico — and Sharma admitted he was amazed that tournament officials even felt they had to ask.

“There was a post on the Masters website that said Shubhankar Sharma accepts the invitation to play in the Masters. And I was like there’s no question about it. Why wouldn’t I accept it? I will definitely accept that.”

Now ranked 72nd in the world, Sharma still tops the European Tour’s Race to Dubai Standings.

And despite the impression that the pomp and pageantry of Augusta is making on him, between the ropes he has plenty of confidence.

“It’s just like any other golf tournament: You play four good rounds of golf and you end up winning,” he said.

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